Warrior Women: Nakano Takeko, the Last Female Samurai Warrior

Nakano Takeko Warrior Woman

Nakano TakekoNakano Takeko was born in Edo (modern day Tokyo), and was the daughter of an Aizu official. At the time, Samurai women were trained in martial arts so they could protect the estates from bandits. Nakano began her training when she was six years old, and she quickly showed aptitude for both martial arts and academics. Her favorite stories as a child were of Tomoe Gozen, a Samurai woman who’d fought and died 600 years before Nakanos’s birth.

japanese naginataNakano spent five years as the adopted daughter of her martials arts teacher, Akaoka Daisuke. She specialized in the use of the naginata, a bladed polearm, and became a skilled instructor. Nakano left him and returned to live with her family at age 16 after he attempted to arrange a marriage for her to his nephew.

During the Battle of Aizu, Nakano formed an unofficial unit of 20 women armed with naginata, including her mother and sister. Due to the gender restrictions of the era, women were not allowed to officially fight in the army. This unit she created was retroactively named the Women’s Army.

Nakano led the charge against Imperial Japanese Army troops. The should have been immediately shot down. The Emperor’s Samurai were armed with rifles, however the was given to take the women alive. That was a mistake. The Imperial Japanese Army was stunned at the women’s ferocity, and none fought harder than Takeko.

Nakano killed five enemy opponents before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. Rather than let the enemy capture her head as a trophy, she asked her sister to cut it off and have it buried. It was taken to Hōkai Temple, located in what is know today as Aizubange, Fukushima, where it was buried under a pine tree.

A monument was erected at the at Hōkai Temple in her honor. During the annual Aizu Autumn Festival, a young girls take part in the procession to commemorate the actions of Nakano and her band of women warriors.

Every year during the annual Aizu Autumn Festival, there is a commemorative ceremony in honor of Takeko Nakano and her band of women fighters.